The Long Shadow of 1981

In a reasonably predictable setback for the Obama administration today, seven Democratic senators opposed the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of DOJ. With united Republican opposition, that was enough to kill the nomination even in the absence of a filibuster.

Of the defecting Democratic senators, five were from red states, and two (Casey and Coons) represent parts of the Philadelphia media market. This outcome is clearly attributable to Adegbile’s involvement in the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murder in the killing of a police officer during the violence associated with the MOVE siege in Philadelphia in 1981.

You can talk all day long about the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel, and the obligation of attorneys to ensure it is enforced. But it’s sort of like the presumption of innocence: laypeople don’t much buy it in cases where media attention paints defendants as bad guys, and cop-killers are the baddest of bad guys. It’s a shame for Adegbile, but let’s hope Obama comes back quickly with a nominee as competent and committed to civil rights enforcement.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.